Published: October 13, 2021 • 2 min read
What should you focus on at the beginning of your programming career?
My answer is: being really good at programming.
My thoughts here are borrowed from Steve Martin, who advises entertainers to “be so good they can’t ignore you.” When you’re objectively great at your job, things start to get easier.
Programming is tough. There is an insane amount to learn across languages, platforms, and tools. You’re going to be building mental models, pushing your limitations, and considering counter-intuitive ideas. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it changes.
Don’t worry about taking the right job at the right company. When you’re starting out those perfect opportunities aren’t going to be busting down your door; forget them for now.
Forget about learning the ideal language or framework. Once you can program, you can pivot. You need to be competent to have that option.
Here’s a quote I like:
“Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Be in a hurry to be the best writer you can be.” –Cheryl Strayed
Be in a hurry to be a great programmer.
A signpost that somebody has adopted this mindset and is headed down the right path can be gleaned from how they respond to pairing or a code review. When a great programmer critiques your code, they’re trying to do two things: improve the code and teach you how to write better code.
But there’s a problem: when you’re new, your code is going to be bad. You’re going to implement anti-patterns. Take pointless risks. Step on invisible third rails. Ignore important cases. Anyone makes these these mistakes.
Folks who are headed in the right direction engage with ideas. They ask questions. Folks who are stuck in beginner-ism will “well, actually” themselves right past the message, arguing, appealing to authorities, and hurling logical fallacies because it hurts to feel like somebody is criticizing your mind.
A fantastic quote that sums up this idea:
“Don’t ask for advice, ask for a code review.” –Unknown
When somebody is in the weeds, asking questions, and trying to learn, I know they’re going to make it.
If you want to grow, have agency, and be passionate about your programming career, get good at it. Everything after that will be easier.
What are your thoughts on this? Let me know!
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